Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Rethinking the “Day Off”

My exploration of missional living has led me to rethink the idea of taking a day off from ministry.

One the one hand, missional living must seep into every part of life, or it is not missional living. If we construct levees to hold back the river of ministry to a particular place or a particular time, then we can hardly consider ourselves missional.

Yet Sabbath is a deep value throughout the biblical narrative. The meaning of Sabbath is rooted in the creation account. And Sabbath-keeping became the identifying mark of God's people in the Old Covenant.

(I'm not endorsing Sabbatarianism. As it is typically practiced, I think it misses the point of the Sabbath.)

When we look at the example of our Lord, a "day off" seems entirely out of place.

For example: can you imagine Jesus ever taking a day off from teaching his disciples? He seemed to go out of his way to perform miracles of healing on the Sabbath. He frequently sought out solitude, but we have no indication that he observed any kind of weekly schedule with breaks from "ministry." And when his solitude was interrupted, he did not run people off with some line about it being his "day off" as Messiah.

However, most pastors are too busy and overstressed.

The last thing they need to hear is that they need to be "on" 24 hour per day, seven days a week. Perhaps the idea of being "on" is part of the problem.

It would seem that a pastor needs to discover a way to live that he can maintain indefinitely.

But how can this be done? Ministry too often feels like a job—with a starting time and an ending time. Pastoral families often are neglected (or worse) for the sake of church work. And most pastors can't wait to get time away from their church.

Perhaps part of the problem is that they have "created a church they don't like or wouldn't attend."

Here's one of the dirty secrets of pastoral ministry: We try to get people to participate in activities that we participate in only because it is our job.

Participating in the kingdom should be meaningful, rewarding, enjoyable, life-giving, fulfilling and satisfying.

  • If we have to bully people into participating, something is wrong.
  • If we have to bribe people to get them to participate, something is wrong.
  • If we have to baby people to keep them participating, something is wrong.

But if the pastor doesn't find his ministry meaningful, rewarding, enjoyable, life-giving, fulfilling and satisfying, no one else will.

Yet a missional approach to ministry demands selflessness. It requires us to be other-focused. How does this square with a view of ministry that resembles a vacation in Sicily more than it does working in the coal mine?

Then there's the airplane-oxygen principle. If I am not "taking care of myself," then I cannot be of much help to others.

But does this mean that I should be selfless for six days and then reserve one day to be selfish?

How would I take a day off from ministry without taking a day off from following Christ?

Can I clock out of my calling once a week?

If my calling is "full-time," then my ministry must also be full-time. How, then, does Sabbath fit into full-time ministry?

First, the lives of Jesus' disciples are to be characterized by rest.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28–29).

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his (Hebrews 4:9–10).

There should be an ease that permeates our lives, including our ministry. We cannot save the world. That is God's job. Even when we are "struggling with all his energy" (Colossians 1:29), our lives should exhibit peace, joy and patience.

Second, many of the things we do to "take care of ourselves" do not deepen our souls and strengthen our spirits. Most of us do not have enough solitude in our lives. Yet when we have a "day off," we fill it with noise and commotion and call it "unwinding."

Third, if our view of ministry is healthy, then we will not feel "entitled" to some time off. Too often we do double-entry bookkeeping with our ministry efforts. We build up a balance of "things for others." Then we draw down that balance in personal indulgence. Ministry should be fully integrated into our lives. Paul says, "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17). If we really understood what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, it would not be possible for us to take a day off from ministry.

Fourth, we need space in our lives. We need space to process our thoughts and our feelings. We need space to speak with our Father. We need space to hear his still, small voice. Busyness, activity and anxiety are the enemy of depth and spiritual health. We need more than a day off from meetings, programs and commotion. We should build solitude and reflection into our schedules. That is something we see Jesus doing regularly.

So here's my plan (for now): I no longer talk about a day off. But I keep my schedule free of most obligations on Mondays. I approach every encounter with others as an opportunity for ministry. (At least that is my goal.) I give myself permission to take a nap if I get tired. I try to do things that I enjoy with others.

We'll see how well this works. So far it seems to be working.

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

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